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Piecing Everything Together

If you were told to make a book, what would you imagine? Most people would probably think of the interior, all the words marching from page to page in tidy little rows. Typing. Editing. Printing. But what about the book as an object, not merely as content to be written and edited and formatted? What about the cover and spine? “We should keep in mind that no text exists outside of the physical support that offers it for reading,” say Guglielmo Cavallo and Roger Chartier in A History of Reading in the West (quoted in The Book, by Amaranth Borsuk).

On Wednesday, November 20, up the creaking staircases and winding hallways to Placid 424, the ever elusive English classroom, our Small Press Publishing class and several student volunteers from around campus united to bind together three-hundred copies of Why Poetry, by Joe O’Connor. We set up stations: one group worked on creasing the printed interior; the next ensured all pages were in their proper order and secured them with binder clips, then sent them to be hole-punched for those of us saddle-stitching them together. Although it was efficient, every endeavor has its trials, and our main opponent came in the form of binder clips…they left permanent marks on the fresh white pages! The day was saved by a clever use of post-it notes under each clip to protect the paper, but it cost our group over ten copies of our precious chapbook. 

That wasn’t all that went amiss: we soon discovered that some of the holes had not been punched directly in the spine, but to the side of it, making the spine crooked, or the binding uneven. This threw off the stitching, which also proved a problem: the single-strand cord constantly snapped when we tried to close the covers! We resolved the issue by doubling it. 

The experience of working together on such a tedious and impossible-sounding project, with a fast deadline, provided a somewhat tense, but also exciting atmosphere as we rose from each trial and tried again. I enjoyed great conversations with my peers and believe I got to know several of my classmates better for this time together, which lent itself (surprisingly) more to conversation than some of our other excursions. Perhaps more importantly, it emphasized a point that I believe I have made in nearly ever blog post this semester: the importance of the tangible. A book, as Borsuk would agree, is as much an object as the content itself, an object that we pick up, sniff, carry with us, and sometimes even destroy. Putting one together through the full process of designing the interior, screen-printing the covers, and sewing both to create a unified whole taught me just how much I don’t know about the effort involved in bringing a work of fiction from one’s imagination to the bookstore shelf. 

Works Cited:

Amaranth Borsuk. The Book. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT Press, 2018. Page 29.

Why Small Press Publishing?

Poet Joe O’Conner // Photo from Eulalia Books’ Facebook page

Joe O’Conner’s Why Poetry? examines the function of poetry and its importance in our world. The goal of the book almost mirrors the goal of this class: to examine the function and important of small presses and their importance in the modern world. This class has provided a space for trying new things and dipping our toes in a whole new world of possibilities in the area of small press publishing. Throughout the course of this semester, we have learned all about notable small presses, the function of small presses compared to the “big six” publishers, and, most importantly, we’ve learned about how a small press operates to create a new work.

As I sat at the book launch and reading the other night, I couldn’t help but think about everything that we have learned to do in this course and how amazing it was that a group of college students could experience first-hand a new side of publishing with which many of us were unfamiliar.

From letterpress printing to our own publishing event, this class has gotten to experience a lot of important and all-encompassing aspects of small publishing. O’Conner asks “why poetry?” while this class, in turn, prompted us to ask “why small press publishing?” The answer I have come to in response to this question is pretty simple, though it is in several parts. Small press publishing is valuable because it allows the author to keep a sense of ownership over their piece, rather than surrendering creative rights to a board of a large publishing house. Small press publishing gives authors whose work may be overlooked by big publishing companies a place to present their ideas, directed at a very specific audience.

Why small press publishing? Because only with a small press can a group of college students in Latrobe, Pennsylvania help to create, assemble, and present a published book of poetry. This course has offered us an experience that few others will have—an experience that I know I will carry with me for a very long time.

The Value of the Hands-On Experience

It’s pretty remarkable how much hard work and careful thought goes into the process of publishing a book and advertising a book launch. When you hear about a new book or see advertising for a book launch, it’s hard to imagine how much work goes into the process of putting all of the things together to make the event and launch a success.

To prepare for the launch of Joe O’Conner’s book Why Poetry, there was a lot of work we had to do to get the books ready for distribution, set up the space for the book launch event, and advertise the event to the public. The process was long and took a lot of work, but it really paid off.

To get the books ready for distribution, we had to piece everything together ourselves. A few teams of students focused on formatting the layout of the book to ensure simplicity and clarity. As a class, we learned how to screen-print the covers of the books and sew the entire book together. This process took a while and learning how to bind and create the books was challenging at first until we got the hang of the process. Seeing the books come together at the end was incredibly rewarding.

Screen-printed cover of Why Poetry? // Photo by Johanna Philips

There were a lot of critical aspects to assembling the space for the book launch as well to ensure that all key components are in line for a successful event. Photographers have to be booked, food has to be ordered, a room has to be booked, and materials have to be set up to make a successful event.

The aspect of the book launch that I was involved in was the advertising. I helped to write the press release that would be used to publicize the event to the community. It was a bit daunting to write because it was an important aspect of publicizing, but it was interesting to be a part of.

This process of creating the book from scratch and setting up a publishing event was something incredibly valuable. This experience is not one that a lot of college students are able to take part in, and for someone who is interested in potentially pursuing a career in publishing in the future, helping with this event is something really special.

Why Poetry?

The more important question is – why not? After attending the book launch last Wednesday I am even more convinced that we all need poetry. Joe O’Connor’s unique way of finding the meaning and beauty in the everyday moments – and even in the moments that are far from beautiful – has inspired me to be more mindful of the world around me. It’s okay to slow down, to wonder, to be content with the ordinary. Our lives move at breakneck speed. We are obsessed with the next big thing, we are obsessed with work, we are obsessed with striving until we can’t anymore – intent on gathering as many things as possible. And these ambitions are not always bad, but when they go unbalanced they can be debilitating. Pride is dangerous. Poetry is a remedy

As Joe said at the reading, poets must be humble. Poets can offer a counter-perspective to a blind world and that is just as impactful and influential to our culture as advancements in technology and medicine. Joe stressed the importance of listening “with the ear of your heart” – which Saint Benedict iterates in his Holy Rule. The more we read poetry, the less deaf we become. The more we read poetry, the less we feel alone. Joe declares that “There are three truths: we are lost, we are human, we have everything we need.”

Joe O’Connor. Instagram @eulalia.books

I consider myself extremely fortunate to have met Joe O’Connor and to have contributed to the making of his first chapbook. I added to Eulalia’s Why Poetry? by designing a book announcement flyer. I and my classmate, Irina, worked in Adobe Illustrator – a program we navigated together since neither of us had previous experience. It took time to learn it, but soon we started to craft a layout and design that we felt portrayed Joe O’Connor’s poetry and mirrored the look of the cover. I was happy to design something that played such an important role in the launch. Most of all, I am thankful the experiences I have had in this class. I have learned so much about the ins and outs of small press publishing and I have enjoyed the hands-on work. There is only so much a student can learn while sitting at a desk, but by leaving the classroom and getting our hands dirty we not only learned , but we experienced. That is invaluable.

“Why Poetry” & Conclusion

Although I wasn’t able to be there in person, watching Joe speak from the live stream was really cool. I liked being able to hear him read his poems for the second time; Joe seems like such a down-to-earth person who is truly passionate about poetry. I didn’t realize how connected he was to Eulalia Books so hearing that bit of backstory was interesting. One of the most important things I took away from his words was when he said, “voices come alive when they are heard” and that it is an “honest connection”. This really resonated with me, especially since on Ursuline campus right now, we are having trouble getting new voices into our own magazine Inscape. I feel like a lot of people don’t realize how powerful voices truly are and everyone has the right and deserves the right to speak up. Joe also mentioned how we must put the Humanities to work which is extremely vital not only on college campuses but in the business industry as a whole.

Even if you’re not a big fan of poetry, it is still playing an important role in literature and I think it has grown in popularity quite a bit. Joe told us that we must listen with the ear of our heart; I thought that this statement was beautiful. I think listening with your heart not only applies to poetry but to life in general. If we all simply listened to the chatter around us rather than starting arguments and controversies, we could get somewhere. I think the way Joe reads his poetry demands that we listen; a lot of poetry is read as if it were a novel rather than slowed down with pauses like its meant to be read.

I wish I would have been closer to Saint Vincent to be able to physically participate in the activities and the excursions but nonetheless, I feel like I learned things. I haven’t quite figured out what I want to do with my life, but I know I want to go into publishing because I love books. I don’t plan on being heavily involved in poetry as of right now but who knows? I think it was cool that this course was designed around poetry because I learned new skills to add to the ones I already have. As the editor-in-chief of my own schools’ magazine, I know how hard it is and how much time it takes to put a publication together. There is so much to consider outside of the physical magazine itself. Although it is a long and frustrating process at times, it is well worth the work. This course was fun, and I liked being able to do projects/posts on things I was interested in within the realm of literature.

“Why Poetry?”, Why Not Poetry?

And that’s a wrap! Last night we concluded our semester of Small Press Publishing with the book launch of  Joe O’ Conner’s “Why Poetry?”. It’s amazing to think that when we started this class back in August, I had no idea what even small press publishing was and now as a class we launched a book. This was an incredibly humbling experience, from reading Joe O’ Conner’s poetry, to talking about it with him as a class, making all the book covers at Mesh Works, organizing and sewing them, putting on the event and attending it. 

All our hard work paid off when we saw Joe O’Conner almost speechless as he took the time to read his poetry out loud. He commented how he had been to many poetry readings in his life and found that they always read the poems too fast, but tonight he was going to take his time to read his OWN poetry slow. It truly felt as a full circle moment, especially since he attended Saint Vincent College and started writing poetry here and now he finally had his work published. 

The event was well attended with students from our class, friends and family of O’Conner and members of the Saint Vincent College community. The night opened with an introduction of the book from Professor Gil-Montero. Then, Danny Whirlow, spoke eloquently about Joe O’ Conner, his background and his dreams of writing. Joe was moved by all the kind words and began his reading of his poetry. He read each of his poems and followed each with a brief story or explanation of why he wrote that piece.  Following his reading and a Q and A, he signed all copies of his book of poetry and sold many books. It was nice to visit with one another and see our hard work pay off. 

© Elspeth Mizner 2019

One of my favorite moments of the night was when I was talking to Joe and congratulating him on his book and although, we only met once he remembered exactly who I was from our first meeting and he thanked me for my work with the press. It is always nice to be thanked for doing work, but when it’s by the author, that’s even more meaningful. We all had a part to play with this book and everyone did a wonderful job to bring it all together. 

This has been an incredible journey, from attending excursions, to making the book, and learning all about small presses. I am so lucky to have played a small part in publishing Joe’s first book of poetry. Simply knowing that we helped make a man’s dreams come true is simply inspiring. I have loved every moment of this class and I am thankful for the friends I have made and the guidance and support from Professor Gil-Montero. This was a perfect way to end my time at Saint Vincent College. 

Why Poetry? Go Ask the Maelstrom

We finally made it to the finish line! I’m so excited and honored to be a part of the process of creating Why Poetry? and I still can’t believe that it’s finally done. I know the book itself has been years in the making, but it was truly special just to be a part of the last few months of putting it together. As a class, we took a closer look into small presses; how they operate, what the goal of a small press is, and who is behind them. We took the liberty of trying to understand what exactly we were getting ourselves into and I think after everything we each took away some key moments or lessons from our time in making Joe’s book.

When I first read Joe’s book I went through the entire thing and wrote down questions that I had and highlighted parts that I liked and that I thought were my favorite. I, as well as the rest of my classmates, were examining Joe’s work just as Professor Gil-Montero wanted us to do. The truly surreal part was getting to meet Joe literally the day after I was first sucked into the “maelstrom” of his beautiful thoughts and ideas. I think the opportunity to speak with Joe had to be one of my favorite parts of the entire book-making process.

Photo courtesy of Amanda Moyher

I remember asking Joe about a the maelstrom that he spoke of in his poem, “Nowhere Else” and I wanted to know if this storm he felt like he was trapped in was a good thing or a bad thing. I guess I really wanted to know if it was good for me to be stuck in my own personal maelstrom. Joe seemed ecstatic about this question and he even brought it up again during the reading. I can’t describe how honored it felt for a man with as much artistic talent and spirit to remember my question that I’d asked. I also appreciated that he wouldn’t say whether or not it was good or bad to be stuck within the storm, because that’s life, he said. As much as I wanted to know the answer in the beginning, I know that Joe wants us as young aspiring dreamers and creators to find out for ourselves and I couldn’t agree more now on the matter.

As we close the chapter on a very exciting and cherishing experience I’d like to personally thank Haylee at Meshwork Press for allowing me to get my hands dirty and learn more about the beautiful and imperfect process of creating art. I’d also like to thank Professor Gil-Montero for being such a wonderful beacon of light for me and all of her students; I will never grow tired of her endless stream of encouragement and wisdom, as it is solely helped me with my own writing. Another thank you to Joe O’ Connor for writing such amazing poetry and for letting us pick at your brain; your talents will never be easily forgotten. Finally, I need to thank the other students in this semester’s Small Press Publishing course. Your company was a blessing and each and I hope each and every one of you achieve your dreams, whether it’s right out of college or further down the road.

May you find your places within the maelstrom and enjoy the ride!

Why Poetry? by Joe O’Connor on Eulalia Books.com

Meshwork Press with Haylee Ebersole

Let’s stop and acknowledge this…

We produced a book in one month. On October 30, we met with Joe O’Connor to discuss his vision for the chapbook Why Poetry? On November 11, we sent the interior to print, and on November 13, we screen printed the covers. On November 20 we sewed about 70 books and various people have been sewing more in spare moments (seemingly pulled from thin air) ever since. Tonight, the work of this whirlwind unit culminated in a poetry reading here at Saint Vincent College, where we presented the community with the finished product, a beautiful, lovingly handmade chapbook of poetry by a man who has written poems his entire life but is only now receiving the recognition his work deserves.

The evening began with a brief introduction by Ms. Gil-Montero of how Why Poetry? came to be. The project grew out of a friendship, an openness that poetry provides. Ms. Gil-Montero met Joe O’Connor because of Eulalia Books, which was only an idea at the time. That the idea came to fruition was in no small part due to support and encouragement from Joe, who is an unwavering champion of the humanities and a stalwart believer in the power of poetry.

Throughout his work and the stories he told in between reading poems, Joe sought to remind us of a simple yet fundamental truth: we are human. Through the humanities, including poetry, we discover what it means to be human living in this world, and we discover who we are as individual human beings. “There are three truths,” Joe writes in the titular poem, “Why Poetry?” “We are lost, we are human, we have everything we need.” It is not enough, according to Joe, to be human alone. We need relationships, we need the “costly exchange” of interacting with others to help us “discover the thrill of being.” And yet relationships are exactly what we have, whether we like it or not. No person is completely self-sufficient; we have everything we need precisely because we must rely on others and allow them to rely on us.

Why poetry? Because poetry allows us to connect with our humanity through the experiences of another. In particulars, poetry reveals universals. In one person, Joe said at the reading, exists a multitude of emotions, memories, skills, failures, and ties to other people. There is more to each one of us than we ever let on. Poetry provides a bridge, a medium to say the unsayable, to reveal our secrets that we ultimately hold in common with every other person on the planet. Joe wants us to be “aware of actual life, to accept living fully, completely and to take action to create a wonderful life.

“And the answer is poetry.”

Why Poetry? is available now from Eulalia Books.

Launch Complete

The launch of the book, Why Poetry looked like it was a lot of fun and insightful. It sucks that I wasn’t able to actually attend the event in person. But thanks to technology, I was still able to see/attend the event via Facebook Live. Due to this, it was as if I was really didn’t miss anything. I was able to hear Joe read the poems and the questions everyone had. It was nice to see everything come together. The event looked like it went smoothly, and the book look amazing. Most importantly, Joe seemed like he was happy with how everything came together.

I think that Danny did a great job giving the introduction/warmup to Joe. His delivery was great. He seemed confident in what he was saying. The content of the introduction was also great. It did a good job summarizing Joe. It did a good job of stating his accomplishments and giving general information about him. It also kept the purpose of the event in mind. Doing this gave the audience a preview of what the speaker would be doing.

When Joe began reading the poems, it brought me back to a discussion we had in class. In one of the class sessions, he talked about when poets read poetry out loud. He said that poetry is meant to be read slowly. By reading poetry slowly, it allows the audience to digest what the poet is saying and draw their conclusions. I noticed that when he read his poems, he did just that. He read slow enough for the audience to digest what he was saying and draw conclusions.

I liked that after every poem, he had a few things to say. Even if it was just general background information, an explanation, or a story that related to the poem. It made understanding the context of each poem easier and made him relatable. I also liked the passion he had for allowing our class to publish his book. He seemed to be invested and passionate about allowing us students to do something like this.

This whole semester and project have been eye-opening. Before this class, I had no real idea of what all it took to launch/publish a book. I didn’t know there were so many components to consider when doing something like this. I didn’t consider how hard and important it is to pick out the perfect design, layout, typeface, and marketing. I’m thankful that I was able to be a part of something like this. I learned a lot that I didn’t know about books, publishing, publishers, and typeface.

My Part in the Massive Undertaking that was Why Poetry?

Throughout my life, reading and writing has always played a major role. I never wrote my own poetry, but throughout high school and college, it’s had a large impact on me and has encouraged me to be more eloquent in my own writings. It’s taught me to treat papers, not as assignments, but as pieces of my own self-expression. Adding my English minor was an option suggested to me from one of my professors, and I tacked it on almost as an afterthought. But this small decision has made waves in my life. I’ve met people that I wouldn’t otherwise have known, and had the opportunity to take this class and be a tiny part in this remarkable publishing endeavor.

As for what exactly my role was in the making of Why Poetry? I have to admit mine was fairly small. My job was at first to read over the book announcement and see what I thought of it, and secondary was to suggest any changes that I thought would better catch the eye and to overall make it more dynamic and engaging. This was a fairly simple task, and the announcement already looked great. I just had a few small suggestions to make it flow a little better and stick out a little more design-wise and ta-da, finished product.

I decided, to do my part of spreading the word, that I should design a bookmark. I went through several different options, but I finally decided on one after trying to tie as much together as possible.

Image of bookmark ©Emily Daniels. Quote ©Joe O’Connor

For one, I chose this quote from Joe O’Connor because I thought that it tied together a lot with the overall book that we were working with. Why Poetry? Because you can always be accompanied by it. I also used it because it was on our book announcement, and I thought that it would be great to hearken back to what my job entailed. I used the imagery of a set of library shelves because I thought it was the most fitting. A place that contains a lot of poetry but that you can find just about anywhere, almost as if the place itself is accompanying you. I used Canva (https://www.canva.com) to achieve the design, making sure it had a darker background so that both the color of the font stood out, and so that the bookmark itself would stand out against the white pages.

Overall, I’d have to say that I sincerely enjoyed being a part of this process, no matter how small my job was, because of the amazing final product that came out of it and the creative fun along the way.